Wow, what a momentous occasion for Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle, New Hampshire – a June 8th birthday commemorating 250 years of service to mariners on the Piscataqua River!
It was on June 8, 1771 when the first gleams were sent forth from Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse across this strategic waterway. Since that time, the beacon’s long and prestigious history has been well chronicled, but in looking back, what is the most important year of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse?
The answer – all of them!
Such an incredible milestone is built one year on top of another – through every storm, organizational change and technological advancement that has rode in on the tides of time.
So when we celebrate 250 years, it’s all 250 of them, which includes today’s heartwarming preservation and education efforts by the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses (FPHL), a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation!
It is occasionally said that without the stories and memories of the lighthouse keepers and their families, the historic towers are merely empty structures. This is very true in one sense, but a deeper consideration reveals that venerable sentinels like Portsmouth Harbor Light are still beloved long after their traditional keepers have departed.
For without a navigational need for Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse on the Piscataqua River, there would have been no need for keepers at this station – and thus, no stories or memories to cherish.
Lighthouses, with all their majesty and romance, are indelible reminders of a bygone era, and by natural extension, so too is the human connection that was required to tend the lights and fog signals. Together, they remain forever intertwined – one does not exist without the other.
For a world without lighthouses – or lighthouses at least in any reasonable condition to be appreciated, would eventually ensure a forgotten fate for the keepers and their families.
History is best preserved and enjoyed when there are tangible aspects in our communities to be appreciated – standing as visible monuments to a rich tradition that beckons present and future generations to desire to better understand.
This is where lighthouse preservation shines brightest!
When we are successful in restoring and preserving lighthouses, the general public is able to touch, admire, climb and be inspired by these timeless beacons of wonder.
We naturally tend to place a greater emphasis on our lighthouse past – a time when the beacons embodied what we love best about them. Yet, lighthouses were built to safely guide vessels to and fro along treacherous waters. They still perform this vital function.
As we know, the sea does not change, so those waters remain as dangerous as ever today – and thankfully, many lighthouses still send out their guiding gleams over these navigational hazards. You might say, as much as things change, they remain the same.
Even the role of the keeper has not totally disappeared . Yes, it is true that the days of keepers and families living on site and tending to chores around the light station are forever gone, but human hands are still required if the lights are to shine on – in more ways than one.
United States Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Teams must maintain a faithful vigilance over the operating equipment at a lighthouse so that its guiding light and sound signal are kept watching properly each and every day.
And as for the historic structures that still stand today, without the dedication of lighthouse groups like ALF’s Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses and their corps of intrepid volunteers, many thousands of visitors would not be able to enjoy public access programs that uniquely share the compelling stories of our lighthouse past.
And as you can imagine, lighthouses and their associated structures do not paint, clean or care for themselves. Modern day “keepers” are still needed here in the 21st century.
Admittedly, this duty looks a bit different than when the lights were staffed, but many aspects remain unchanged.
In reflecting upon such a diverse 250 years of a lighthouse standing at Portsmouth Harbor, it becomes apparent that the lighthouse movement – as well as our local coastal communities, truly need to place a greater importance on the role that modern day “keepers” play when it comes to the continuing history of lighthouses.
FPHL volunteers – like other dedicated lighthouse volunteers around the country, freely give of their love, time, talents and money to ensure Portsmouth Harbor Light remains strong and looks its best year in and year out.
In a way, the job of a modern day “keeper” is actually more challenging than when those who were employed by the U.S. Lighthouse Service and U.S. Coast Guard tended the lights.
Volunteers must find the extra time in their busy lives to help the lights, and lighthouse organizations must raise all of the daunting funds to restore and maintain the historic structures.
So what does all this mean?
It means that YOU are truly a big part of this rich lighthouse heritage at Portsmouth Harbor…and the marking of 250 years strong would not be possible without your noble contributions!
I believe I can take the liberty to say that Portsmouth Harbor keepers like Joshua Card, Leander White, Henry Cuskley, Arnold White, Elson Small – and Connie too, would salute you on this momentous occasion. Somewhere, they are tipping their caps to you and saying, “Well done FPHL Keepers of the Light – carry on. The watch is yours!”